At TCF, when we want to generate quick and easy media coverage for one of our clients, our first stop is Help a Reporter Out (or HARO, for short). While it’s certainly not the only way to score backlinks for SEO, generate earned media coverage and create killer social proof, it’s one of the easiest – and it’s totally free. Simply put, HARO is one of the most reliable resources for small businesses looking to earn media coverage.
In fact, our CEO Kari DePhillips has generated $1.2 MILLION worth of earned media coverage for TCF in the last year (with a potential reach of 64.6 million people)…just via HARO. The case studies we’ve been able to create for our clients are even more insane. Last year we scored $2.2 million worth of earned media coverage for ASTROGLIDE, most of which came via HARO.
Over the course of my 5-year tenure as an Account Executive with TCF, I’ve responded to thousands of HARO pitches and landed hundreds of placements for our clients in major media outlets. If you want to learn how to write a HARO pitch that works, I’m your girl – and in this post, I’ll break it all down for you.
Just check out TCF’s client The Alternative Board (the world’s largest executive peer advisory franchise) in USA Today, Inc., and Entrepreneur – all coordinated through HARO. Or how about Blushing Brides in Shape and Allure? Yep, also HARO. Take a look at Astroglide in Self and Maxim. You guessed it — also HARO!
And that doesn’t count our clients we’ve gotten on TV — once again, just through HARO.
So, if you want a piece of the action, what should your next steps be? Read below for more info, and be sure to download TCF’s HARO pitch template so you can copy/paste/modify based on responses that work!
Getting Started with HARO
First things first, HARO is 100% FREE. And when we say “free” we don’t mean “free for one use,” or “free for the first 30 days.” No, we mean free-free. Like, forever. All you have to do is register!
Once you’ve registered for their service, you will receive three emails per day – one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening that will look something like this.
Each link will lead to a more in-depth query from the reporter, outlining what kind of info they need, who they need it from, and what’s required to submit. For example, this is what the first Forbes link (#17) looks like when you click on it:
The queries are split up into the following categories: Biotech and Healthcare, Business and Finance, Education, Entertainment and Media, General, High Tech, Lifestyle and Fitness, Public Policy and Government, and Travel. Typically, all small business owners – from any industry – can (and should!) be responding to the Business and Finance queries, as well as whatever category best fits their niche.
Responding to this query in a relevant, informative way could land your insight in Forbes with an SEO-boosting link back to your website.
The Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of HARO
Who sends HARO queries? It’s simple: reporters, TV producers and high-profile bloggers. In order to qualify to send a HARO query, the website needs to have an Alexa ranking of 1 million or better (meaning, their website needs to be ranked in the top 1 million of all websites on the internet).
Who can respond to HARO queries? Anyone and everyone. If you’ve got experience and expertise to share (and who doesn’t?), you qualify.
The queries sent out via HARO range from requests for high-level tech expertise to low-level “tell us your favorite book about business” questions. You’ll get three emails per day, each containing 50+ queries that cover lifestyle, business, health, high tech, travel and general queries.
The “where” is the easiest – simply reply to the email provided in the query. It will look something like “query-number/[email protected].” You can’t miss it! Reporters typically sort their inboxes using this private email address, so it’s best not to email them directly (even if you happen to have their actual email address).
As for the “when,” the sooner the better. The fact that HARO is free means hundreds of people are responding to each query (but don’t get discouraged — we’ll show you ways to cut through the noise).
The faster you respond, the more likely the reporter is to see your quote. If possible, open up HARO emails as soon as you receive them, and get responding ASAP to get ahead of the competition. There’s a HUGE first-mover advantage to getting your response in early, as reporters often go with the first relevant responses they receive.
But wait — how many queries should you reply to? All of them? Some? Where do you draw the line?
Of course, the more HARO reponses you send out, the more placements you’ll receive. At TCF, our team of expert PR professionals usually sees about a one out of five success rate. From what we’ve heard and observed, the typical responder will see something more along the lines of one out of every ten.
That means sending out a lot of responses is (generally) a good idea. Still, you should only respond to queries that you can accurately respond to.
When getting started, we recommend the 30-day go-hard-at-HARO approach. Check out that link to see how the experiment worked for us (spoiler alert: we slayed it – and got featured everywhere from Success Magazine to Business News Daily).
The goal with a 30-day HARO challenge is to respond to all relevant queries within an hour of them being sent, but of course that’s fairly ambitious for someone who’s also running an entire business. So maybe aim for a minimum of 10 a week, which by our estimates, could very likely turn into 4 media placements over the course of the month.
This process works for us and will work for anyone. We’ve trained countless clients on our approach, who have seen similar results. Our client, The Yarlap System, won a Women’s Health FemTech award using our techniques. Others have landed in The New York Times. Truly, the sky’s the limit here.
HARO is the fastest and easiest way for you to generate earned media coverage for yourself and your brand on a consistent basis. In addition to the ad value equivalent of the exposure, you’ll also score high-quality backlinks that will drastically improve your site’s SEO.
It’s a combination of timing and knowing how to deliver a useable response that works. You’ll want to move fast, because there’s a proven first-mover advantage to providing the first usable response.
So what does usable mean?
The ideal response provides 1-3 paragraphs in response to each of the questions posed by the reporter in the query. This should address the topic thoroughly and offer a unique insight that will stand out against the dozens of other submissions.
4 Things Reporters Are Looking for in Your HARO Response:
1. A comprehensive answer that gets to the point quickly.
- Like we mentioned before, just one to three paragraphs is ideal. They’re not looking for an entire blog post worth of content to sift through, unless they specifically ask for more details.
- If you feel like you need to attach your response as a Word document, you’ve written TOO MUCH. Also, attachments won’t go through the HARO system, so don’t try.
2. Snackable soundbites.
- Remember, the text you provide will likely be chopped up and used in quotes throughout their article. It isn’t supposed to be the entire article.
- Your snippets should be “quotable.” They should be provided as ready-for-publication in a major media outlet (clean, concise, spell/grammar-checked, etc).
3. Unique and interesting.
- Reporters who put out HARO queries can expect hundreds of responses. If you want to get published, you have to stand out.
- For example, if the query asks for “your favorite business book,” don’t respond by saying The 4-Hour Workweek — that’s everyone’s favorite business book!
- Instead, pick a business book that’s lesser known, or even better, maybe choose a novel or memoir that inspires you as an entrepreneur. It’s a lot less likely someone else will think in that direction.
4. Actual industry expertise.
- While it’s often easy to forget it, you are an expert in what you do. What may seem common sense to you can be great advice for someone just getting started in your industry.
Use your years of experience and insider knowledge to answer questions in an honest way. If you’re just researching facts from Google, your responses likely won’t be as unique or useful.
- Anecdotes and first-hand experiences are always powerful tools when responding to HARO queries. If the query asks about difficult clients, it’s one thing to provide your general insight on how to handle them. It’s much more compelling to provide a real life example of a time you had a difficult client and managed to mitigate the situation. Top that off with the advice you learned from the experience, and voila! You’ve got a placement-winning quote.
- For example, The Alternative Board Vice President David Scarola’s real life example of sandwich shop employee who taught him an important lesson about customer service was featured in American Express Open Forum via HARO.
- While it’s often easy to forget it, you are an expert in what you do. What may seem common sense to you can be great advice for someone just getting started in your industry.
4 Things Reporters DON’T Want to See in Your HARO Response:
1. “Contact me for more info.”
- HARO reporters are looking for usable quotes that are publication-ready. Enough submissions will include usable quotes, so it’s a waste of time to send out a pitch that merely offers up your client as a source.
- Even if the HARO says that they’re looking for a source to interview further, still provide a brief snippet that addresses the topic the reporter has listed in the query.
2. “My client would love an interview.”
- The reason reporters are using HARO is because they don’t have time for an interview.
- If you want to pitch your client as a source, pitch directly to reporters, not through HARO’s service
3. Attachments and fancy formatting.
- HARO strips emails of any attachments, so leave them out.
- Make sure you have your headshot available as an online link, because many HAROs will request one with your submission.
- Fancy HTML also gets stripped and should be avoided (so don’t bold anything, or try to hyperlink).
4. Anything off topic.
- If you don’t have a great, targeted response for a HARO, skip it.
- There’s no point in sending a response that doesn’t answer the reporter’s questions.
- If you’re consistently sending off-topic HAROs, reporters will notice the pattern and stop opening your emails altogether.
Want more info on how to slay HARO? Check out our article 7 Reasons Reporters Aren’t Using Your HARO Responses [18 Pro PR Tips!] for more info on common HARO mistakes.
10 Simple Steps to Landing MAJOR Media Coverage via HARO (how to write a HARO pitch that actually works!)
This isn’t rocket science – it’s actually quite simple, once you develop the right system. Here are the nine steps you should take to ensure you land the most earned media coverage possible via your efforts:
1. Read through ALL of the queries.
You never know what you may qualify for, so read each one. Every once in awhile, a business query will sneak into the “General” category, which means a lot more “business” responders will likely miss it, and you’ll get the upper hand.
2. Be first with a good response.
We mentioned this before, because we want to stress exactly how important it is. The faster a reporter can get a useful quote, the faster they can be done with their article and move on to the next one.
This means reporters are incentivized to go with the first good response they see. Use this to your advantage!
3. Proofread your responses.
Reporters are looking for quotes they can copy and paste into their articles. Make your responses publication ready. Typos make your responses look unprofessional, which will make the reporter question your validity as an expert.
4. Break up the text.
A big chunk of text can be intimidating for a reporter to make sense of. Split up your submission with line breaks, bullet points, headers, etc. Each paragraph should express only ONE idea.
5. Think in terms of “snackable” quotes, and pepper a couple in your responses.
Snackable quotes are our way of saying be pithy and quotable. Here’s an example of another quote from Jodie Shaw that got in Inc. magazine through a HARO placement.
The information is short, to-the-point, and highly quotable.
6. Actually be an expert, with expert opinion/advice (the more actionable, the better!)
Reporters are often given topics they don’t know a lot about, but still have to create original content around. Being able to provide actionable step-by-step advice makes their job a lot easier.
TCF client Blushing Brides landed a feature in Bustle by providing a HARO reporter with suggestions, images and step-by-step instructions for holiday lip art.
7. Case studies FTW!
A case study is a real life example you can use to illustrate your point on a topic and a very effective way to catch a reporter’s attention.
For example, TAB President Jason Zickerman shared with a reporter for American Express Open Forum how the company developed its brand image by “gaining an understanding of what our members felt, what they believed and what they had to say about us.”
He then followed with the direct impact that action had on TAB. “Thanks in part to branding, TAB has become known as a go-to small business resource.”
A case study should include an action that was taken and the result that came of it. The more replicable, the better.
8. Include your name, title and link to your website.
A lot of people forget this, and it costs them referral traffic and a backlink. ALWAYS remember to call out how you’d like to be cited, as well as your website and social media handles.
9. Offer to share the article when it’s live.
This is a big one. Journalists are often judged by their bosses based on the number of clicks and shares their articles get. If you can ensure you’ll actively promote the articles that feature your quotes, they’ll be more interested in working with you. This also shows that you know how to play the game. We typically conclude our HARO pitches with something along the lines of:
“If you do include this quote in your story, please let me know when it’s published, so I can promote it across our social media channels.”
PRO TIP: If you have a large social following, call that out in your response.
If reporters know that you’ll share the article with thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of your social media followers and email subscribers, it signals that A) you’re worthy enough to have a large following of your own, and B) your promotion of the article will drive more clicks to their article.
10. Actually share the article when it’s live.
Share any articles that are published using your HARO responses across all networks, tagging the media outlet where it was published, the journalist, and anyone else quoted in the piece. This will not only lead to retweets and engagements that will boost your brand awareness, but remind the reporter that you are someone beneficial to work with.
For maximum effect, continually re-promote (and re-tag everyone involved) once per month as long as the article is evergreen and relevant. This makes the journalist more likely to work with you in the future.
If the content is evergreen, reshare it once a month across your networks. Again, this shows the journalist that you’re willing to continually promote their work, which makes them more likely to want to work with you in the future.
Pro Tips to Maximize ROI:
Get the most out of your HARO-based earned media coverage by doing the following:
1. Promote it on your website.
Have a press page. Or better yet, put an “as seen on” logo on your homepage as social proof of your company’s authority. See how The Yarlap features its Femtech award on its homepage?
2. Follow up and thank the journo when the article goes live.
- Thank the journalist for using your quote via email.
- Follow the journalist who used your quote on LinkedIn and Twitter (but not on FB, that can be a little too personal).
- Add the journalist to your Twitter lists and engage with them. More on that here.
- When you follow up, say something to the effect of: “Feel free to reach out to me directly in the future if you need any quotes or expert opinion on X, Y or Z. I’m quick to turnaround responses and am happy to help.” If you do this, you will build direct journalist contacts, and they will reach out to you directly in the future.
- Continually re-promote the article across your social channels, tagging the journalist and media outlet.
The benefits of HARO are undeniable, as long as you know how to write a HARO pitch that works. Many of our clients see over a hundred original media placements in a year using this method, and we’ve even landed clients full segments on the Today show via HARO.
HARO is also a killer way to meet journalists and develop relationships with them. Many reporters we’ve gotten in contact with through HARO now email us directly when they need a source. Not to mention, the backlinks are great for social proof, SEO and a good jumping off point for social media engagement.
Of course, maximizing the benefits of HARO requires excellent communication skills and quite a bit of time. In fact, managing HARO for one PR account can be a full-time job!
If you’re running a small business, it’s often times easier to have someone leading this strategy for you. TCF offers a HARO package where our team monitors and responds to these queries for you, on your behalf as your PR agency.
TCF alone has been featured in Fast Company five times in the last year via HARO, so we know a thing or two about what we’re doing. Contact us for more info.